Everything To Know About Safely Traveling With a Puppy

Brittany Grenus, DVM
By Brittany Grenus, DVM on Oct. 10, 2023
brown and white jack russell terrier puppy standing in the back seat of a car

In This Article

Before You Leave

Bringing home a new puppy is an exciting time. He’s a new member of your family, and you want him to be included in everything you do—especially traveling. Fortunately, the puppy stage is the best time to get a dog comfortable with all aspects of traveling. It’s typically easier to desensitize a puppy to new things that older dogs may already fear, such as car engines, plane noises, city sounds, or trucks.

While you may want to start taking your puppy on trips right away, it’s important to plan your travel while keeping your pet center of mind. Here’s what to know about traveling with a puppy so it goes as smoothly as possible—both for you and your new pup.

Before You Leave

Before you even leave for a trip with your puppy, there are a few important things you should do to prepare. The level of preparation will depend greatly on how long the trip is and where you’re heading. 

1. Introduce Your Puppy to the Car

Cars can be scary for dogs when they’re not used to them, so it’s important to make your puppy feel as comfortable as possible. This begins by simply introducing your pup to the car well before he’s going for a ride.

Let him walk around and sniff the car. Allow him time to get comfortable in his area of the car and get settled in.

Once he feels comfortable in his spot in the car, turn on the engine. As soon as he seems comfortable with the sound (this may take some time), take him for his first ride. This should be a short ride, just to the end of the street and back. Give him plenty of praise and treats for riding quietly.

As he gets more and more comfortable with car rides, start to gradually increase the distance he travels in the car.

It’s important for your puppy to feel stable in the car. The seats can often make puppies and dogs feel insecure because they’re soft, which can make them feel off balance. Dogs often feel more secure on the floor or in the trunk of an SUV, because the floor is solid and they have a more stable grip. Do NOT put your puppy in a closed-in trunk, such as in a sedan.

2. Gather Your Gear

Once your pup is comfortable in the car and you’re planning your first trip, make sure you have all the items you need for him.

  1. Crate or dog barrier. This helps keep your pet safely confined during travel and provides a firm surface for your pet to stand on so he feels stable during travel. Be sure the crate is large enough for him to turn around and lie down. Bonus: If you’re staying somewhere overnight, the crate provides your dog a safe space to sleep. Be sure to crate train your puppy prior to putting him in a crate in the car.

  2. Harness and dog seatbelt. Always use a harness with the dog seatbelts, and never attach a seatbelt to your dog’s collar. If he slips off the seat while you’re driving, it can pull on his neck, and he may not be able to get back up to loosen it.

  3. Two leashes—your regular leash and a spare, just in case

  4. Collapsible water and food bowls

  5. Poop bags

  6. Baby wipes to clean him in case of an accident

  7. Food

  8. Treats

  9. Toys

  10. Blanket or bed

  11. Pet first aid kit

  12. Doggles (dog goggles)

Interstate and international travel also require additional documentation, such as a health certificate. The needs vary depending on your travel destination, so look up all requirements through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service information from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).  

It’s important to check this information as soon as you know your travel dates. Getting the required documentation can take anywhere from a few days to months, depending on where you’re traveling.

3. Have Up-To-Date ID

Be sure your dog has a name tag on his collar with your contact information, and double-check that it’s securely attached to his collar. Also make sure he not only has a microchip, but also that the contact information associated with it is up to date.

Dogs are also more likely to get lost when traveling because they’re in unfamiliar places with lots of new distractions. If he does become lost, it’s much easier for someone to contact you when all your info is current on his name tag and microchip.

4. Address Preventative Care

Depending on where you’re traveling, there may be different recommendations for preventative care for your pet. Diseases are not evenly distributed throughout the world; certain areas are more prone to certain disease processes.

Talk to your vet about where you’re traveling so you can make sure your pup has all vaccines and preventative medications he needs before you hit the road. Do this sooner than later, as some vaccines can take a few weeks to provide protection for your pet. There’s nothing worse than your puppy getting sick with a preventable disease while traveling!

Talk to your vet about where you’re traveling so you can make sure your pup has all vaccines and preventative medications he needs before you hit the road.

During Your Trip

Now that you’ve done everything to prepare for your trip, here’s how to travel with your puppy safely.

1. Keep Your Puppy Safe

When traveling with a puppy in the car, he should be restrained in a crate or with a dog harness seatbelt. This helps prevent him from becoming unstable and falling when turning, and it also helps keep him safe in the event of an accident.

Puppy-proof your car before traveling. It’s important to make sure there’s nothing dangerous he can get into, such as loose objects he could potentially chew or choke on while traveling.

You also shouldn’t let your dog stick their head out the car window as you drive. It can cause his eyes to dry out, get something stuck in them, or become scratched on the surface. If your puppy tolerates dog goggles, these can make him safer.

Along with danger to his eyes, there’s the risk he slips out of his harness and jumps out the window. It’s best to keep the window closed as you drive.

2. Exercise Before Traveling

Exercise not only physically exhausts puppies, but it can also mentally exhaust them (depending on the type of exercise). Tired puppies are much more likely to remain calm and sleep throughout the trip. This can make the whole travel experience much smoother for both you and your pup.

3. Make Frequent Stops

How frequently a puppy needs to go to the bathroom depends on how old he is and how much water he’s consumed. In general, puppies can hold their bladder for a length of time equal to their age in months plus one. So, a 2-month-old puppy can hold his bladder for about three hours.

It’s recommended to stop for potty breaks every two or three hours when traveling with a puppy. This allows him to go to the bathroom, stretch his legs, and have a water break.

4. Manage Car Sickness

Puppies can get carsick, but it’s important to distinguish whether they’re truly car sick or if they’re just anxious in the car, as these are treated differently.

Some of the most common signs of car sickness and anxiety are excessive drooling, whining, crying, and vomiting. If this starts soon after getting into the car, it’s likely anxiety-related. But if symptoms begin a little while into the car ride, your pup is likely car sick.

Car sickness is common in puppies, and fortunately they often outgrow it. In the meantime, there are several things we can do to help treat and prevent motion sickness.

  • Keep the car cool and comfortable.

  • Open the windows. Fresh air can help alleviate nausea for your pup, just as it does for people.

  • Avoid feeding your puppy within two or three hours of travel; traveling on a full stomach can make him more nauseous.

  • Take him for a walk prior to traveling so he feels less anxious about potentially having an accident.

  • Give him medication. Several medicines can help with nausea in the car. Talk to your veterinarian about trying the medications below, and never give your puppy medicine without a vet’s guidance.

    1. Benadryl®

    2. Meclizine

    3. Dramamine

    4. Cerenia®

5. Regulate the Temperature

Dogs are much more prone to overheating in cars than people, and puppies are especially sensitive to temperature changes. This is because their bodies aren’t as good at regulating their temperature yet.

Given how quickly cars can heat up when they’re just sitting in the sun, dogs (especially puppies) should never be left in a car alone. Similarly, in winter, puppies are also at risk of freezing if left waiting alone in a car.

Cars don’t only get hot or cold when you’re parked. The temperatures can also rise or drop drastically while driving. To help keep your pup comfortable during the summer, open the windows a little to allow more airflow. If you keep your air conditioning on, be sure it flows to him; the back of the car is often much warmer than the front seat.

You can also consider window shades to help prevent direct sunlight from shining on your puppy. These are especially important if you crate your puppy in a plastic or metal crate, as these can heat up rapidly when exposed to direct sunlight.

Dogs are much more prone to overheating in cars than people, and puppies are especially sensitive to temperature changes.

In winter, keep your heat on and consider providing your puppy with a blanket to help keep him warm during travel. Check on him frequently, and remember that just because you feel comfortable does not mean he does.

After You Arrive

When arriving at a new destination, acclimate your puppy to the area. Take a walk around, showing him the yard and the home or hotel room where you’re staying.

Show your puppy the new location of his water and food bowls. Lay his toys out for him so he knows he has something to play with. A familiar crate to sleep in can also help him feel much more comfortable while traveling.

Check the new place for any dangers to your puppy, too. If there’s a fenced area, walk him around the perimeter of the yard on a leash, and make sure there are no breaks or holes in the fence where he could escape. It’s best to keep him on a leash until he gets used to his new environment.

While this may seem like a lot, a safe and smooth trip often means an incredibly fun trip! Traveling is an amazing experience for animals and provides them lots of positive stimulation, further strengthening your bond with them.

Featured Image: Getty/Eva Blanco

Brittany Grenus, DVM


Brittany Grenus, DVM


Dr. Brittany Grenus graduated from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2018 with her doctorate in veterinary medicine and a...

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